What to expect at a traffic ticket hearing

Find out what will happen at your traffic ticket hearing, who will be there, and what happens if you miss your hearing.

Table of Contents

What should I do if I need to request a change the day of the court magistrate’s hearing?

If you are unavailable on the date scheduled for the court magistrate’s hearing, call or go into the clerk-magistrate's office and request a date change.

You may be asked to submit your request in writing and to attach any documents to show why you can't be in court on the scheduled date.

If a magistrate allows a change to the hearing date, be sure you are available on that date and make note of it, as you usually won't receive any additional mailed notice. Except for genuine emergencies (such as serious illness), a hearing usually won't be rescheduled a second time. 

Where will the hearing be held?

You should look at your notice to see how the magistrate will conduct the hearing. Many courts will conduct the hearing by Zoom or videoconference, while other courts will hold magistrate hearings in person at the courthouse.

You should arrive promptly on the date and time scheduled for your hearing. For an in-person hearing at the courthouse, check in at the clerk-magistrate’s office, unless the hearing notice or signs at the courthouse say otherwise.

What happens at the magistrate’s hearing?

The clerk-magistrate or an assistant clerk-magistrate will conduct the hearing. Formal rules of evidence don't apply.

The law does not require the police officer who gave you the ticket to be at your hearing. Instead, a representative from the police department may present a copy of the ticket or a police report as evidence. If you were only ticketed for civil violations, the ticket itself is enough evidence of the violation, although it doesn’t necessarily prove you’re guilty.

You will be allowed to tell the magistrate why you believe you weren't responsible and to give any other evidence to support your position, including pictures, documents or witnesses. You're allowed to ask questions of police officers or witnesses during the hearing if the magistrate decides it’s appropriate.

After all the evidence has been presented, the magistrate will make a decision. The magistrate can't give a warning instead of a ticket — only the ticketing police officer can do that.

  • If you were only ticketed for civil violations — The magistrate will decide whether the police department has proved whether it's more likely than not that you committed each civil violation. If so, the magistrate will find you responsible for the violation, and if not, they will find you not responsible. You don't have a right to a jury trial for civil violations.
  • If you were ticketed for any criminal violations — The magistrate will decide whether to issue a criminal complaint against you for those violations. If the magistrate issues a criminal complaint, you will eventually be able to have a trial by a judge or jury or to plead guilty. The District Court and Boston Municipal Court (BMC) standards for these show cause hearings are available online.

If you were only ticketed for civil violations and neither the ticketing officer nor a police representative come to the hearing, but you don't appear either, your request for a hearing may be dismissed, and you may have to pay the ticket.

What happens after the hearing?

Pay the civil assessment

If you're found responsible for a civil violation, the magistrate will usually issue a civil assessment. Before the end of the hearing, you can ask for more time to pay the civil assessment.

You must pay the civil assessment decided by the magistrate directly to the RMV within 20 days. You do not pay it to the court. You can pay the assessment online.

Appeal

You may be able to appeal the clerk-magistrate’s finding.

Additional Resources

What if I miss my court hearing?

Civil violations

If you were only ticketed for civil violations and you miss your court hearing because you forgot or for another reason that's not considered good cause beyond your control, you must fully pay the ticket to the RMV within 20 days of the scheduled hearing. Otherwise, you'll have to pay substantial fees.

If you miss your court hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you can file a motion with the court explaining why you missed it. You should do this immediately, since the court will tell the RMV that you didn’t appear. A magistrate has a lot of control in deciding on these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

You can't appeal to the Appellate Division if you miss your hearing. The magistrate or judge has to order the regular civil assessment when you don’t appear at the scheduled hearing. Your only option is a motion to the magistrate or judge requesting to remove the default and reschedule the hearing. If the motion is denied, you can't appeal it.

Criminal violations

If you were ticketed for any criminal violations and you miss your magistrate’s hearing, you'll receive a summons to appear in court before a judge. If you ignore the court summons:

  • Your driver's license will be suspended
  • A warrant will be issued for your arrest
  • You'll have to pay substantial fees
  • You won’t receive unemployment, workers' compensation, public assistance benefits, and state tax refunds
  • Any professional licenses or permits you have may be suspended or denied

If you miss your magistrate’s hearing for a good reason that's beyond your control, you can file a motion with the court explaining why you missed your hearing. You should do this immediately, since the magistrate will normally issue a criminal complaint and a summons for you to appear before a judge. A magistrate has a lot of control in deciding on these motions, and you can’t appeal that decision.

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